THCa — One Letter Makes All the Difference!
Believe it or not, that fresh eighth you just picked up from the dispensary has more THCa than THC. THCa is not turned into THC until you spark up, creating the euphoric high that many seek after. While the structure of THCa is similar to THC, they have remarkably different effects. Read below to learn more about THCa
What is Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCa)?
While we still have a lot to learn about the hundred cannabinoids that are naturally produced in the cannabis plant, we have started to understand the therapeutic benefits of Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid. Already, we are starting to see concentrates and oil products which contain significant amounts of Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid, in hopes of providing synergistic effects with the other cannabinoids.
THCa is Non-Psychoactive
First of all, Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid is non-psychoactive, unlike its daughter THC. While this cannabinoid may not get you high, it certainly has many medical benefits, including anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-emetic, and neuroprotective properties.
To understand why THCA turns into THC, it is instructive to mention how the most popular cannabinoids are synthesized in the plant naturally. Essentially, CBGA is the mother of all cannabinoids. CBGA can degrade into CBG (similar to how THCA does into THC), but that is not the only option. Three different enzymes are released throughout the plant during its growth, which can turn CBGA into THCA, CBDA, or CBCA.
Once these three acids exist in the plant, each will slowly undergo a process called decarboxylation. Let’s nerd out for a bit. The carboxyl group is attached to the acids, including Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid, which is a chain of COOH. When a hydroxyl group (OH) comes into contact with the COOH, they undergo a chemical reaction, turning into H20 and C02. By the time the reaction is complete, the carboxyl group is removed, and Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid has now turned into THC.
While many state that the decarboxylation temperature is around 222 degrees Fahrenheit, it still slowly occurs at temperatures below this. To say that decarboxylation strictly turns on or off at one temperature is oversimplified, which makes it difficult to identify the best decarboxylation method.
Simply drying and curing the plant will turn some of the THCA into THC, but this occurs most easily once the plant is heated to a high temperature. This explains why we typically smoke, vaporize, or cook the herb.
Many lab tests will often return higher concentrations of THCA than THC, especially with high-pressure liquid chromatography. This method does not apply heat, which preserves the cannabinoids and terpenes in the plant.
Some less legitimate labs will utilize methods such as gas chromatography, which heat the plant and will measure mostly THC. Once again, these labs are not as accurate or useful, since they may burn off many cannabinoids or terpenes, making it unclear what was actually in the plant before applying heat.
So if you ever see the lab test data for a strain and it says it has a lot of Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid, yet very little THC, don’t fret! By the time you bring it home and light up, all of the THCA will be turned into THC.
THCa and THC Levels
To get an approximate idea of THC levels from the lab test, you can simply add the amounts of THC and THCA together. Since the molecular weights are different, this is not exactly correct. Multiplying the THCA content by .877 and adding it to the THC content gives the true THC content after applying heat.
While many originally thought THCA had no impact on the human body, we now realize that THCA is full of therapeutic benefits.
Less than 10 years ago, it was thought that Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid would not be able to be detected in urine or blood, and it was assumed that THCA did not have any therapeutic effects. Today, we see that this is not the case, and the body’s enzymes do not convert THCA into THC.
Effects of THCa
Similar to THC, Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid is said to stimulate the appetite. Many also claim that it has somewhat sedative effects, making it useful for insomnia. While maybe this is true, it is well accepted that CBN and terpenes such as myrcene and linalool primarily provide the sedative effect of cannabis.
Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid does not seem to directly impact the CB1 receptor, but does regulate other components of the endocannabinoid system. THCA has been shown to release the COX-1 enzyme, inhibit the COX-2 enzyme, inhibit TNF-alpha, release interleukin-10, agonize TRPA1, and antagonize TRPM8.
Don’t worry if this all seems complicated, because it is supposed to! Researchers are still trying to figure out exactly how activating and inhibiting these receptors and enzymes affects us. To make things even more complicated, regulating one part indirectly affects the entire endocannabinoid system.
And to make things more complicated again, THCA comes in two forms, THCA-A and THCA-B. The vast majority of the studies that we mention in the next section are studying THCA-A. I have never seen a lab test that distinguishes between the two, and very little is known about the differences.
Medical Benefits of THCA
Perhaps all of the cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory properties, certainly including Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid. This is partially mediated by inhibiting the COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes.
While many anti-inflammatory medications have severe side effects, cannabinoids are comparatively safe. For example, the LD50 of THCA is almost 2,000 times higher than nicotine, at least for rats. Some also think that the pain-killing effects of THCA could be greater than THC or CBD.
COX-2 inhibitors also seem to be beneficial for treating breast cancer. While more research is being done, initial results seem promising. Another study found that CBD was the most effective for treating cancer, but THCA also exhibited these properties. Also, its action on the TRPM8 receptor is promising for prostate cancer patients.
Another study looked at how many cannabinoids worked at treating a rat model of prostate cancer. While most of the work focused on CBD, Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid may also show some promise. In general, it seems that combining multiple cannabinoids is often the best option, as they possess the entourage effect.
Many chemotherapy patients like using THC for its anti-nausea effects, but Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid may even be better than THC. It appears that some of these effects were through CB1 activation, but Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid also helped through another unknown mechanism as well.
It is well known that many cannabinoids exhibit neuroprotective properties, and Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid is no exception. This study in particular found that Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid protects dopaminergic neurons against cell death. Parkinson’s disease is caused by the loss of these neurons that produce dopamine.
Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid also modulates the immune system by inhibiting TNF-alpha levels. Not only does this describe another mechanism for THCA’s anti-inflammatory properties, but it also gives it a lot of other promise. TNF-alpha dysfunction can cause Alzheimer’s, cancer, depression, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Anecdotal evidence supports that THCA may help with lupus. While it may take a few days to feel the symptom relief of lupus, patients looking to treat nausea could make a cannabis juice full of Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid to get fast acting relief with no psychoactivity.
How to Consume THCA
Many tinctures do not decarboxylate the plant, so most tinctures contain high levels of THCA.
Throughout ancient history, many people have also made cannabis teas. Interestingly enough, THCA is more water soluble than THC, so the teas tend to more easily absorb THCA. This suggests that many of the properties associated with cannabis tea comes from Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid.
Some people looking for the therapeutic effects of THCA without the psychoactivity of THC will juice the raw cannabis plant, providing a truly green smoothie. For juice recipe ideas, check out our post on the 3 day cannabis juice cleanse.
Tinctures high in Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid also are available on the market, yet are difficult to find. WoahStork has partnered with CannaKids, who offers some of the highest quality tinctures and oils on the market. They have created a THCA oil tincture by soaking Girl Scout Cookies leaves in olive oil, resulting in their all-natural and organic product.
Click here to view CannaKids’ menu and place an order for delivery through WoahStork.
Most users will look to convert as much THCA into THC as possible, whether it be for recreational or medicinal purposes. Medical patients who are looking for THC’s benefits, yet prefer not to smoke the plant should be aware of the decarboxylation process. As previously mentioned, decarboxylation can occur easily by the flame from a lighter, but patients looking to make edibles should consider their options.
Cooking cannabis at too high temperatures will decrease the efficiency, and also burn off more of the terpenes, which have their own therapeutic advantages. The best decarboxylation methods always suggest to use fairly low heat for extended periods of time. As tests have shown, simply heating the herb in an oven for 40 minutes does not give the optimal efficiency. A study in the Netherlands found that heating cannabis for 110 minutes at 230 degrees Fahrenheit (110 degrees Celsius) works quite well.
Mary’s Medicinals also makes a line of transdermal patches, one of which is specifically designed to be high in Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid. These patches may be difficult to find in most dispensaries, but with WoahStork, you can easily shop from multiple dispensaries to find your ideal product. For example, Higher Path carries these Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid transdermal patches, as well as many other great products. Create a WoahStork account today to order from dozens of dispensaries and delivery services throughout CA, CO, OR, and NV.